OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A judge on Friday granted the defense attorney for a transient accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last year permission to file a motion to dismiss the case under seal.
John Lee Cowell, 29, is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson, on the platform at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. on July 22, 2018.
Cowell also is charged with a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, a charge that could have resulted in the death penalty if he’s convicted in a criminal trial.
However, prosecutors said in August that they won’t seek the death penalty against Cowell and instead will focus on convicting him and having him sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Cowell’s attorney Christina Moore asked that she be allowed to file her motion to set aside the grand jury indictment against him under seal because it contains potentially prejudicial information.
Moore wrote in court papers that “there is a reasonable likelihood that making all or any part of the motion public will prejudice the defendant’s (Cowell’s) rights to due process and to a fair and impartial trial.”
The defense attorney said it’s highly likely that if the motion isn’t filed under seal exhibits that would be inadmissible at a trial “will be discussed, quoted, and written about in the media.”
Moore said such a result would interfere with Cowell’s ability to get a fair and impartial trial because potential jurors would be exposed to inadmissible evidence.
Moore said the exhibits she doesn’t want to be made public are the transcript of the grand jury proceeding in the case, a police report and the transcript of an audio recording, which she said are hearsay documents that wouldn’t be admissible at a trial. A judge previously sealed the transcript of the grand jury hearing.
However, she said she isn’t asking for a closed hearing when the motion to dismiss is debated and ruled on.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy gave permission to Moore to filed the motion under seal, saying Cowell’s right to have a fair trial outweighs the public’s right to see the motion.
Murphy then scheduled the hearing on the motion to dismiss for Nov. 22. Cowell also is scheduled to enter a plea on that date, as the motion to dismiss can’t be heard until after he enters a plea.
Superior Court Judge James Cramer suspended the criminal proceedings against Cowell last Dec. 27, saying there was “substantial evidence” that he’s mentally incompetent to stand trial.
But at a hearing on July 17 Cramer reinstated the criminal proceedings against Cowell, based in part on a recent doctor’s report that found that Cowell is now competent to stand trial.
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